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Frank W. Smith Glass Plate Slide Collection

Identifier: spe-nhrc-gp-smith

Scope and Contents

The glass photographic slides cover a broad spectrum of Chicago history including businesses, churches, clubs, organizations, municipal agencies, parks, residences, schools, street views and transportation. Slides of other historical views such as the Chicago Fire of 1871 and Century of Progress and the World’s Columbian Exposition fairs are often the same as stereographs and prints that are available in other collections.

This collection consists of an initial accession of glass plate slides assembled by Frank W. Smith (Slides 1-706) and eleven supplements. Nearly all of Smith’s slides bear a paper label reading “Frank W. Smith, 5539 Cornell Avenue, Chicago.” Chicago Transparency Company and the A.G. McGregor Company were among the vendors who produced and sold ready-made glass plate slides made from daguerreotypes, cabinet photos and other original photographs on a variety of topics. He may have also prepared some of the slides himself. Smith used his slides for presentations and his set includes identification information along with an introduction and conclusion (Slides 1, 2, and 706).

Mr. Smith used slides he had acquired from other sources, and it is impossible to determine if all slides in the Smith Collection were owned by Smith. Thus, the Smith Collection serves as a growing file of Chicago-history glass plates. Slides numbered after 706 are supplements to the collection.

The dates reflect known or approximate dates of the photographic images that were used to create the glass plate slides. The bulk of the slides are undated.


  • 1830-1933, undated


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

Frank W. Smith was a banker and Chicago history enthusiast, born in Chicago on May 19, 1849, just twelve years after the city incorporated. He began his career working in the family business, Smith Brothers, wholesale grocers on South Water Street. After the company was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871, he turned to banking and was long associated with the Corn Exchange National Bank. Smith married Dora Hadden in 1873. They had three children: Fannie, Osborn and Ethel.

Smith had a strong interest in Chicago history. He accumulated a large collection of glass slides and gave illustrated talks about the city. As described in the publication, Chicago, Its History and Its Builders: A Century of Marvelous Growth (1912), “His lectures have at times constituted the force that has called to life the memories of the earlier settlers, while the younger Chicago has listened spellbound to his stories of the early days.”


11 Linear Feet (in 16 boxes, includes 1058 glass plate slides)

Language of Materials



The glass photographic slides cover a broad spectrum of Chicago history including businesses, churches, clubs, organizations, municipal agencies, parks, residences, schools, street views and transportation, among other historical topics such as the Century of Progress and the World’s Columbian Exposition.


The glass plate slides are arranged into 13 series by topic:

Series 1: Presentation Slides, undated

Series 2: Biographical Data, circa 1890-1907, undated

Series 3: Business Establishments, 1830-circa 1930, undated

Series 4: Religious Institutions, 1857-circa 1900, undated

Series 5: Clubs and Organizations, 1843-circa 1920, undated

Series 6: Historical Sketches, 1864-circa 1910, undated

Series 7: Municipal Agencies, 1847-circa 1930, undated

Series 8: Parks, circa 1890s-1932, undated

Series 9: Residences, circa 1870-1912, undated

Series 10: Schools, 1856-circa 1871, undated

Series 11: Street Scenes, 1857-circa 1930, undated

Series 12: Transportation, 1855-circa 1930, undated

Series 13: World’s Fairs, 1893, 1933

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Frank W. Smith Collection came to Special Collections as part of the South Shore Community Collection and slides 1-706 were separated due to their distinct compilation by Smith and their city-wide scope. Eleven supplements of glass plate slides, unrelated to Smith, have been added to the collection.

Supplement 1 includes Glass Plate Slides 707-710. Slides numbered 707, 708, and 709 were received as a gift from Cathy Koves of the Billy Graham Center Museum in Wheaton, Illinois. Slide number 710 is a Frank W. Smith photograph that was found after the original collection was cataloged.

Supplement 2 consists of Glass Plate Slide 711, a portrait photo (negative) of an unidentified couple that was transferred with collections from the West Side Historical Society.

Supplement 3 includes Glass Plate Slides 712-787. The items have a Chicago Public Library label and were transferred internally.

Supplement 4 includes Glass Plate Slides 788-932. These slides may be part of the Albert W. Swayne Collection that were donated to the Library’s Art Department around 1934 where they circulated. According to a 1956 Library annual report, the use of lantern (glass plate) slides declined. As a result, 75 percent of the collection was discarded and the remaining “200” or so slides—principally views of Chicago—were retained for reference use only in the Social Science Division. In 1977, these were transferred to Special Collections.

Supplement 5 includes Glass Plate Slides 933-971. These slides (negatives) depict a variety of personal and business scenes from circa 1900-1920. It is unclear if these scenes take place in Chicago. The slides were donated to Chicago Public Library, Garfield Ridge Branch by Howard M. Ewert in 1983, who found them in a South Side basement during renovation. They were transferred to Special Collections the same year.

Supplement 6 includes Glass Plate Slides 972-974 that were given by Mr. P.H. Sloan to the West Side Historical Society. They were added to the collection in April 1989.

Supplement 7 includes Glass Plate Slides 975-986 that were part of a set of 111 glass plate negatives, lantern slides and emulsion negatives in the West Side Historical Society collection. The slides retained in this collection had Chicago city-wide significance and were added to the collection in April 1989.

Supplement 8 includes Glass Plate Slides 987-1044 that were collected by the Historical Society of Woodlawn and were originally cataloged as part of that collection. These slides concern Chicago parks (987-1038), particularly Jackson Park, and Civil War (1039-1044). They were added in May 1989.

Supplement 9 includes Glass Plate Slides 1045-1051 that came from a box of about 400 slides found in Special Collections. Their provenance is unknown. Slides with unidentified scenes or pages from various books of poetry were discarded. The numbers above were added in January 1990.

Supplement 10 includes Glass Plate Slides 1052-1057 that likely originated in the collections of the West Side Historical Society. These were added in February 1990.

Supplement 11 consists of Glass Plate Slide 1058 that was found with additional slides donated by Carl Warachowski in 1992.

Related Materials

Chicago City-Wide Collection

Chicago Postcard Collection

Chicago Park District Records: Photographs

Knowles Postcard Collection

South Shore Community Collection

World’s Columbian Exposition. Glass Plate Lantern Slides

Separated Materials

The following items have been removed from the collection:

Yosemite National Forest. 2 slides sent to Sourisseau Academy, San Jose State University, San Jose, California.

Winnebago Indians made by the H. H. Bennett Studio. 2 color slides sent to H. H. Bennett Studio, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

Beach at South Haven, Michigan. 1 slide sent to Grand Rapids Public Library, Michigan Slide Room in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Four slides manufactured by Thomas Y. McAllister of New York City sent to the Young-McAllister Collection, Manuscript Division, William L. Clements Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Nine slides of scenes in Alaska sent to E. E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Missouri, 1904. 28 slides sent to Pictorial Collections. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

Supplement 4: The Life of Christ, 58 slides; Hymn texts, 10 slides; America the Beautiful, 16 slides. Sent to the Billy Graham Center Museum, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

Guide to the Frank W. Smith Glass Plate Slide Collection
Processed by Galen R. Wilson and Roberta Bell, October 18, 1988. Updated and ingested into ArchivesSpace by Michelle McCoy, 2022.
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Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Unit at Harold Washington Library Center Repository

Harold Washington Library Center, 9th Floor
Chicago Public Library
400 S. State Street
Chicago IL 60605 United States
(312) 747-4875